ABUJA - A pair of explosions rocked the northern Nigerian city of Kaduna on Wednesday, killing at least 25 people.
Police say a bomb apparently targeted the convoy of prominent, moderate Muslim cleric Sheikh Dahiru Bauchi, who had just finished an outdoor service for thousands of people in Murtala Muhammed square. The cleric escaped unharmed but at least 25 people were killed.
Less than three hours later, a second explosion took place in a crowded Kaduna market, where a VOA reporter on the scene counted dozens of bodies.
There were no immediate claims of responsibility for either blast. Islamist militant group Boko Haram has previously targeted and killed clerics who criticize its hardline ideology and markets.
Sheik Bauchi, who is known for preaching against the insurgent group, had called the organization “un-Islamic.”
At the scene of the first blast in Kaduna, witnesses say the bomb appeared to be targeting Bauchi, who had just finished .
“We saw casualties," said Lawan Ciroma, who witnessed the carnage at the site of the first blast. "So many people died. They say a bomb just blast now and when Sheik Dahiru Bauchi was closing, when he was passing, when he was going home. Immediately after he passed, the bomb just blast.”
According to Police Commissioner Umar Usman Shehu, the bomber targeting Bauchi was a boy in a vehicle who died in the attack.
“The boy scattered his legs, his head - everything separate,” Shehu said.
After the bombing, police threw tear gas to force people away from the scene, fearing another attack in the same place.
The next bombing struck a busy marketplace on the other side of Kaduna, where witnesses say dozens of bodies lay scattered on the ground afterward.
Opposition leader and former president Muhammadu Buhari, who was in the area, escaped unharmed
Authorities on Wednesday imposed a 24-hour curfew in Kaduna, which lies outside the region of northern Nigeria under emergency rule. The city has been attacked by insurgents many times.
100th day of captivity
The explosions occurred on the same day that activists marked the 100th day of captivity for more than 200 schoolgirls kidnapped by Boko Haram.
The Islamist militant group abducted the girls from their school in the northeastern town of Chibok on April 14.
In a statement, organizers of the Bring Back Our Girls social media campaign said the families and communities of the abducted girls had "suffered deep anguish [and are] seeking effective rescue to end peril that befell their daughters."
Ahead of Wednesday's events, organizer Bukky Shonibare expressed optimism that the girls would be freed soon.
"We believe that anything can happen swiftly, so if there is anything we expect from the president ... it is for our girls to return now so that instead of commemorating day 100, we all come out jump on the street, dance and celebrate the gallant return of our girls," she said.
The rallies are taking place a day after Nigerian President Goodluck Jonathan held his first meeting with some of the parents of the kidnapped girls, along with some of the girls who managed to escape.
After the closed-door meeting in Abuja, presidential spokesman Reuben Abati said Jonathan repeated his pledge to rescue the girls.
Esther Yakubu, the mother of one of the abducted girls, said the Chibok community has been living in fear since the kidnappings.
"Those that have wealth a bit, they leave entirely the Chibok land to another place to hide their life, but we that are poor we are the ones living there," she said.
In a statement, Bring Back Our Girls said its events on Wednesday include a "remembrance service" in Lagos and a candlelight vigil at the Nigerian consulate in New York.
Ibrahima Yakubu contributed to this report from Kaduna.